KISSIMMEE, Fla. (BRAIN) — Several e-bike brands are looking to powersport dealers as retail outlets, especially for electric mountain bikes, which are becoming a hit with off-road motorcycle racers. And at least one brand, Specialized, sees powersport dealers as a way to establish themselves in the bike transportation market.
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E-bike sales through powersports dealers are still relatively small and suppliers — including Specialized, Giant, Yamaha, and the Alta Cycling Group brands of Raleigh, Haibike and iZip — are being careful to avoid upsetting their existing bicycle retailer network even as they cater to the unique needs and expectations of dealers accustomed to programs that vary significantly from the IBD industry.
“This is not an indictment of the IBD,” said Saul Leiken, who manages Specialized’s e-bike program in the U.S. “But we think the opportunity for electric bicycles as transportation is so big it can’t be fully met by the IBD.”
GNCC an opener
Specialized began opening some powersports dealers to sell e-bikes in early 2019. The brand first got involved with the dealers through its sponsorship of the Grand Nationals Cross Country (GNCC) off-road vehicle race series.
“Local moto dealers would come up to us (at GNCC events) and say ‘we want to sell your bikes,’ and we thought maybe this is something we should look into. At first we thought it made sense to serve the GNCC racers who use electric bikes for training and as another toy in the garage. But when we started to visit the stores we saw there was a larger opportunity,” Leiken said.
“A lot of (powersport) dealers don’t just sell dirt bikes for recreation, they also sell street bikes for transportation. We believe electric bikes offer the whole industry an opportunity to position bikes as vehicles, more than just recreational devices.”
The GNCC race series introduced many off-road powersport enthusiasts to e-bikes. The series includes about 13 events, all east of the Mississippi. Races are held on off-road circuits that are about 12 miles long. Rules prohibit racers from pre-riding the course on dirt bikes: They can scout by foot, bicycle — or e-bike.
“The GNCC situation was a little unique, and it put e-bikes in front of a unique audience,” said Rob Trester, manager of Yamaha’s smart power vehicle division, which includes its e-bikes and powered wheelchairs.
Yamaha has had a presence at GNCC events for several years, as has Haibike, which began supplying some pro dirt bike teams with its e-bikes four or five years ago. In 2019, Specialized was a presenting sponsor of the full 13-event motorized race series and title sponsor of an e-MTB race series held at eight of the events.
Central Florida Powersports began selling Giant e-bikes in late March at its store in Kissimmee. The store sold through all its 2019 models and is now promoting 2020 bikes, said John Scott, manager of the store’s parts department. E-bikes are included in the department.
So far, all its e-bike sales have been to its regular clientele of off-road motorcycle enthusiasts, he said.
Scott said racers use e-bikes for training, race course reconnaissance, and for getting around the race pits. They allow parents of young racers to move around the course quickly to see their youngsters race.
“I really see e-bikes going even further into the powersports industry,” Scott said. “They just go together hand-in-hand.”
Scott said stocking e-bikes came about from a bit of coincidence. He and his fiancé rented Giant e-bikes on a trip early this year on a whim.
“I’m not an avid cyclist, but I had an interest in e-bikes, and they had my size, so we rented a couple and we had a blast,” he said.
Two weeks later, a Giant sales rep came into the store on a cold call.
“It was just perfect timing. … I didn’t tell him at first that I had recently tried the Giant e-bikes and thought highly of them,” he said.
So far, Central Florida Powersports only sells e-bikes at its Kissimmee location, but Scott said the store might add them at another location next year and might experiment with offering pavement models there.
Scott said it is difficult to compare the profitability of selling e-bikes versus powersport vehicles.
“E-bikes are all cash sales, whereas the motorcycles are usually financed … with a motorcycle sale there are add-ons like extended warranties and GPS units, whereas with the e-bikes it’s maybe just a helmet,” he said.
He said the store has built a bike assembly and service area and trained several mechanics in bike service.
“We had a couple guys (in the service department) who are hardcore cyclists, so it wasn’t hard,” he said.
Giant goes after motor dealers
Giant made waves last month when it exhibited e-bikes at a California motorcycle consumer show.
The company said the show’s attendees “are predisposed to anything on two wheels. Since they’re now seeing Giant e-bikes in an ever-growing number of powersports retailers across the country, it makes sense to give them a peek at the latest from the industry leader in hybrid cycling technology.”
“We are working to partner with the best independent retailers that will expand the world of cycling to new riders.” — Giant
Giant declined to be interviewed for this article. The company released this statement: “Giant is a supporter of an active lifestyle— especially when it comes to activities that involve two wheels. We want more people riding bicycles and we are working to partner with the best independent retailers that will expand the world of cycling to new riders.”
The “ever-growing number of powersports retailers” stocking Giant e-bikes includes Motorcycles 508, a combination motorcycle/e-bike operation in Massachusetts that also sells e-bikes from Haibike, Bulls, Specialized, iZip and Raleigh.
Online dealer locator searches also turn up Higgins Powersport in Barre, Massachusetts, a Giant dealer; AC Powersports in La Grande, Oregon, a Specialized dealer; and Outlaw Motorsports in Enterprise, Ore., a Giant dealer. Cedar Creek Motorsports in Wisconsin sells Giant and Stacyc, the electric balance bike brand now owned by Harley Davidson. PCP Motorsports in Sacramento, California, sells Giant and Specialized e-bikes. And Binghampton Honda in New York sells Specialized.
Harley-Davidson is developing a line of e-bikes, but hasn’t announced how they will be distributed. Ducati also has a line of e-bikes available in Europe, but not yet in the U.S.
Specialized, Stacyc, Yamaha and other e-bike brands were displayed at this summer’s AIMExpo motorcycle trade show in Ohio, which included an e-bike pavillion.
Alta Cycling Group sells e-bikes through a handful of powersport dealers, said Larry Pizzi, Alta’s chief commercial officer.
Pizzi said the connection between dirt bikers and e-MTB is strong, but he’s not expecting powersports dealers to sell many off-dirt e-bikes.
“I think it will stay dirt-focused. I don’t think (road) motorcycle enthusiasts are interested in e-bikes, there just isn’t the connection,” Pizzi said.
Committed dirt bike enthusiasts see even $6,000 e-MTBs as a bargain compared to motorcycles, he said, and the e-bikes let them conveniently train from their homes when they don’t have time to load up their dirt bikes and drive to a legal riding area. Street motorcycles, on the other hand, can be ridden straight from home anytime.
Dirt bike enthusiasts consider $6,000 e-MTBs as a bargain.
Pizzi said the Alta e-bike brands (then under the ANA umbrella) exhibited at some powersport trade shows years ago but got little response from the dealers at the time. He’s considering a return to those shows but is undecided. Alta sales reps regularly make calls on powersport retailers, he said.
“It’s an interesting cross-section; I’m not sure where it will go,” Pizzi said.
Yamaha has an obvious connection to powersports, but currently powersport dealers are only about 10% of its U.S. dealer count, said Trester.
“We just want to find the good dealers who can provide a good customer experience,” Trester said. “We don’t say ‘no’ to powersports dealers, but they are not where most of our business is now.”
Trester predicted that e-bike sales will continue to grow for powersports dealers, as they will in other channels. “There’s growth in the category, so I think e-bike sales are going to continue to grow in a number of places,” he said.
“The biggest change we’ve seen is the excitement at the IBD level. … It was very different 4-5 years ago when there was a lot more IBD reluctance.”
Specialized has developed a specific program for powersports dealers, which is something of a hybrid of typical powersport dealer programs and IBD programs.
Powered vehicle dealers are accustomed to smaller margins than IBDs, but also are accustomed to receiving labor credits for performing warranty service. Specialized offers something in between, Leiken said. He said offering powersport dealers typical IBD margins might have encouraged discounting.
“We thought it was best to adapt to something closer to what they are accustomed to,” Leiken said.
Specialized holds the dealers to the same online sales and showroom policies as IBDs, and requires the dealers to have a dedicated bike service area and a qualified bike mechanic available during business hours. They also are required to have an account with a bike parts and accessories distributor so they have repair parts available. They also must complete Specialized’s own e-bike tech training, which is offered online and in person. Powersport dealers cannot sell regular Specialized bikes.
All Specialized e-bike dealers, including powersport dealers, are required to maintain a separate page on their website that links to local e-bike laws, regulations and maps of approved e-bike trails.
Leiken said Specialized’s sales to powersport dealers is split about 50-50 between dirt and pavement bikes, including its transportation-oriented pavement bikes and its recreational e-road models.
Whether they are offering dirt or pavement bikes, Leiken said powersport dealers are reaching customers who don’t visit IBDs. Leiken was general manager of the City Bikes IBD chain in Washington, D.C., area before joining Specialized.
“We don’t think sales through these (power) dealers will negatively affect IBDs. They are seeing a completely different rider than the ones that come in to the IBDs. I talk to a lot of riders who don’t expect IBDs to sell electric bicycles, even though bicycle is in the name. They see electric bicycles as vehicles and they expect to find them at a retailer who sells vehicles,” he said.